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Lake-effect storm throws transportation into chaos

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The lake-effect storm that has pummeled Jefferson and Lewis counties for more than 24 hours has raised havoc with transportation.

Numerous roads had to be closed because of motor vehicle accidents, according to DOT Region 7 public information officer Michael R. Flick.

“If you don’t have to travel, don’t,” he said. “Stay home.”

State officials barricaded Interstate 81 from Mexico, in Oswego County, all the way north to Exit 48 Tuesday night.

“Troopers are now getting remaining vehicles off I-81,” said Trooper David D. Delgado around 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Counties kept no-unnecessary-travel advisories in effect. For residents of the village of West Carthage, the decision whether to travel was out of their hands, as Mayor Scott M. Burto issued a state of emergency, a travel curfew and a parking curfew. During the curfew, which began at 7 p.m. Tuesday, all travel — except for essential emergency vehicles and personnel — is barred until 6 a.m. today. Parking on village streets also has been prohibited during the same period.

Residents who did venture out Tuesday encountered multiple road closures.

Route 11 northbound in the town of Adams was closed for 2 hours, and reopened at 1:15 p.m. Route 193 in Ellisburg between Hammon Road and Allerd Road was closed for nearly six hours, and reopened shortly after 6 p.m. Mr. Flick said Route 283 southbound between Route 342 and the Watertown city line and Route 12 between Lowville and Watertown remained closed as of Tuesday evening.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo declared a state of emergency for several counties at 8 p.m. Monday in anticipation of the arrival of the worst of the storm, and Interstate 81 from Exit 31, Brewerton, to Exit 45, Watertown at Arsenal Street, was closed then.

State Department of Transportation officials initially called it a “soft closing,” meaning that exits were not blocked. As a result, some drivers still took to the road throughout the day Tuesday. Trooper Warren R. Johnson with state police in Watertown said some on-ramps were blocked but not all of them.

However, Jefferson County Fire and Emergency Management Director Joseph D. Plummer said the “soft closure” was not successful in keeping drivers off the road, so the closure was changed to a “hard closure,” leading to onramps being barricaded in the stretch of highway between Exits 34 and 48.

A multicar accident in the northbound lanes south of Exit 44, Watertown Center, and worsening conditions north of Watertown during the morning Tuesday led DOT to close that section of highway. The Jefferson County Highway Department pulled all of its plows from the roads just after 1:30 p.m. Tuesday because of heavy snow and poor visibility. The plows returned early Tuesday evening.

The towns of Denmark, Rutland and Champion, at minimum, also made the decision to stop plowing until visibility improves.

“It’s difficult for everyone out there,” Jefferson County Highway Superintendent James L. Lawrence Jr. said.

Rutland pulled three of its four plows from the road, town Highway Superintendent Claude E. Phelps said. There was still a plow operating in the afternoon in the Felts Mills area, but all roads from about Rutland Hollow Road to the Lewis County line were sidelined.

Champion Town Highway Superintendent John F. Sech said the decision was made to pull plows at 10 a.m. Tuesday, with little improvement in conditions as of about 2 p.m.

“As soon as it lets up, we’re ready to go,” he said.

Travel on any road parallel to I-81 was difficult throughout the day as drivers sought an alternative north-south route. Between heavy snow buildup and intermittent but persistent whiteouts, speeds on Route 11 rarely reached 15 miles an hour, making travel to and from Watertown both tedious and dangerous.

Travel was expected to be difficult and dangerous as long as the storm persists. The National Weather Service lake-effect warning is in effect until 1 p.m. today. People who have appointments scheduled for today or who were planning to go to an event should call ahead to make sure the appointment or event is still scheduled.

Information on the storm is available at: National Weather Service: http://wdt.me/Dzs7pV. Information on road conditions is available at: http://511ny.org/mapview.aspx.




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